ikebana and life in japan

a blog about ikebana and life in japan


Christmas Ikebana with Candles

Do you know how much I love Christmas?

So much that I put my Christmas tree up on November 23, I've been listening to Christmas music non-stop since then, and I've been doing Christmas ikebana with my students for the past week. I think you can never have too much Christmas!

All last week, my students were creating beautiful Christmas arrangements. I was practicing for my monthly ikebana test, so I wasn't able to do one myself. But this week, during my lesson, I finally got to do my Christmas arrangement.

I wanted to do a one-row form arrangement, and I also wanted to use silver in my arrangement this year, too. I had a bunch of silver candles, so I decided to use those as the main "stems" of the arrangement. I spaced them out creating an asymmetrical rhythm in the arrangement. I then added the green base using some cedar and Asparagus myriocladus. I had found some dark red spray carnations at the flower shop that I thought would go well with the silver candles. I also found some white branches at the flower shop that I thought I could use to give the form some height and balance out the length of the two containers. And last, to give it a bit more sparkle (and make it a little more festive), I added some silver ornaments throughout the work. I tried to use a variety of sizes and textures to make the ornaments more ikebana-ish.

A sophisticated silver Christmas ikebana arrangement.
 I think the silver candles and white branches give it a cold, wintry feel. With the addition of the red carnations, it warms up the feel of the arrangement and gives it a little playfulness, too.

with the candles lit

Christmas light -- Christmas hope

I am going back to the states next week to spend the holidays with my family. This once a year trip is something I look forward to each year. Being able to spend Christmas with family makes the holiday perfect for me.

What makes the holiday special for you? Do you have any special plans for the season?
Feel free to leave any comments in the comment section below.

Merry Christmas!


Fall Colors and Coffee Filters -- Fall Ikebana Exhibition

 The past two weeks have been full of ikebana fun.

From November 2nd to the 4th, the annual Hanamaki Arts Festival was held. I have been doing an ikebana work for the exhibition for the past 12 years. It is something I look forward to each year. But this year, I had even more to be excited about -- two of my students also did a work for the exhibition!

We spent a few weeks leading up to the exhibition trying out different styles and materials, trying to figure out what each one of them would like to do. One student decided to do nageire, an arrangement in a vase. We went to the flower shop together and chose the flowers that she wanted to use. It was a very dynamic yet chic arrangement. She did a wonderful job!

fasciated willow, Dracaena, carnation
My other student decided to do a Hanamai arrangement. I think she practiced three different ways using different containers. We also went to the flower shop and she chose her materials. Her arrangement was beautiful and elegant. She also did a wonderful job!

Trumpet lily, Aspidistra, baby's breath
I was so proud of the both of them. I think they each had a good time doing their arrangements and were pleased with what they had done. One of them is already looking forward to next year and decided what she would like to do!

I wanted to use some orange this year in my arrangement. To me, orange is a warm fall color that you don't see used that often. I went around to several different flower shops looking for something that would inspire me, but I couldn't find anything. The day before, I finally found something orange! I knew what I wanted to do to show off the color and the beautiful flowers.

philodendron aureum, pincushion, philodendron "black cardinal", kangaroo paw, Asparagus myriocladus
 I loved the contrast of the green and black philodendron leaves, and the bright orange in the middle helped to pull the arrangement together.

The art festival is held in an old gymnasium. As you can see from the pictures, the background is not the best. The pegboard is old and worn and is used year after year. I guess you could say that it has seen a lot of art over the course of it's life, but I think it is time for it to go! After the exhibition was finished, I took my work home and rearranged it to take a better picture.

A nice background and better lighting certainly makes for a better picture!

The next weekend, November 9th to the 12th, was the prefectural fall ikebana exhibition. The exhibit is four days, but it is divided into two halves so that more people can participate in the exhibition. I did something for the first two days.

This year, I wanted to do a zoukei work. I like to use common objects and use them in a new and unusual way. This time, I decided I wanted to use coffee filters to create something. Last year, I had searched the Internet looking for Christmas wreath ideas and had stumbled upon a coffee filter wreath. It was beautiful in its simplicity. I didn't make the wreath, but the image was stuck in my head. I thought I could use coffee filters to create a large shape that would be simple yet beautiful.

After a couple of weeks of working on it on and off, and using 600 filters in the process . . .

coffee filters, chicken wire
Many people were enamored with it, trying to figure out what it was made from. Some people thought that it was made from carnations, but when you looked at it up close, you could see that it was made from paper. I was very happy with the result. I think that this is something that can be expanded upon, creating a series of zoukei pieces in the future.

Here are a few more pictures of the piece that I took at home.

the dark shadow down the middle, created from being able to see into each crumpled filter,
followed you as you moved around the piece, giving it a sense of movement

light from one side

a close-up of the tower

a very close-up of the coffee filters

It was a busy two weeks, but it was a fun two weeks. Beautiful arrangements were made by some of my students and a crazy tower of coffee filters was created by me.

How can you not love the world of ikebana?


Freestyle Ikebana with Bare Branches

Unryu weeping willow, monstera, Dendrobium phalaenopsis

Freestyle arrangements are one of my favorite to do (it seems like I say that about everything I post!). There are no rules as to where the materials should be placed, how long the branches should be, what types of materials should be used -- everything is free.

For this arrangement, I wanted to show off the unusual curves of the weeping willow. The branches are not contained within the container, but stretch out, around, and under creating a sense of movement. I used two monstera leaves to add some weight and mass to the work, creating an unbalance with the lines moving around the container. One leaf is inside the vessel, and the other is outside. This also creates a sense of movement and wonder, drawing the viewer into the work, trying to figure out how the materials are placed within the arrangement. Finally, to add a little color, I used three single blossoms of Dendrobium. Two were placed between the leaves to add a mass of color, and one was placed near the back to help draw the eye to the movement of the weeping willow.

a view slightly from the right side

 This view from the top shows more of the movement of the lines. Notice that the front has strong, bold lines that flow to the back of the container, which has thinner lines that are jumbled up. These opposites are important in ikebana. This unbalance creates a sense of balance -- the magic of ikebana.

"By observing the beauty and quietude of nature; the play of opposites, of yin and yang (in and yo in Japanese); and the asymmetrical balance of line, mass, and empty space, the ikebana practitioner strives to incorporate peace, harmony, reverence, and a feeling of centeredness into his or her arrangement and into daily life."  Joan D. Stamm

As always, feel free to leave a comment bellow.


Me -- In the News!

I had the pleasure to be featured on the front page of a prefecture informational newspaper, Ma cherie. It goes out to over 150,000 different households throughout Iwate.

A couple of weeks ago, the reporter and a photographer came to my apartment to do the story on ikebana. I did a couple of fall inspired arrangements. One was a basic arrangement that a beginner would learn to do, and the other was a free style arrangement that expressed the feeling of "otsukimi" -- a special day in September where people enjoy looking at the full moon on a clear fall evening.

We spent the afternoon doing the arrangements and then taking the pictures. Trying to get the best angle and lighting for each picture was a lot more difficult than I had expected; but, it was a lot of fun! I think both the reporter and the photographer learned a bit about ikebana and how it is more than just cutting and arranging flowers -- it is an art. There is a reason each flower is cut to that specific length and where and how it is placed in the arrangement. We all had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs!

the page without the advertisements

Here's the link to the full newspaper.

Thanks, Ma cherie!


Fall Ikebana in a Vase Using Quince

Quince is one of the most frequently arranged flowering branches used in ikebana. It can be used throughout the entire year -- when it flowers in the spring and when it bears fruit in the fall. Quince branches spread out wildly in all directions and often crisscross.  It's important to show off these characteristics when arranging it.

I was lucky enough to get a few branches of fruit-bearing quince from my teacher's garden this week. It had a large, green fruit near the bass of the branch, perfect for use in a vase. I arranged the main branch extending out to the right of the vase. I added another branch that extended out to the front, crossing some of the smaller branches of the main branch. Finally, I added a branch that bent down, extending the movement of the quince into the space below the mouth of the vase. I trimmed off almost all of the leaves of the branches, leaving only a few to help direct the eye to the different lines of the quince. I didn't want to detract from the beauty of the quince, so I added a single stem of cockscomb to complete the arrangement.

Fruit-bearing Quince, Cockscomb
I love the vivid red of the cockscomb. The perfect color for a fall arrangement. And the red near the green fruit is a nice contrast.

As always, feel free to leave a comment!


Fall Ikebana

In ikebana, it's traditional to do arrangements a little ahead of the actual season around you. Summer is still in full force here with daytime highs in the 90s (30s for you Celsius people). One word -- hot.

This morning, when I got to school, the teacher's room was already in the upper 80s -- hot!! By the time I left, it was in the lower 90s -- HOT!!! Most Japanese schools, especially schools in rural areas, don't have air conditioners. Japanese people are famous for "gaman", endurance, patience, grin and bear it. Everyone talks about how hot it is, but life continues as usual -- with the sweat dripping.

To help with the "gaman", people think about the coming cooler temperatures of fall and the beautiful fall colors. Fall foods have begun to be put out in the grocery stores, there are commercials on TV with beautiful fall foliage, travel magazines with special destinations for fall are out -- all to help one look forward to the coming season.

To help you look forward to the coming season, here is my first fall arrangement of the year.

Pampas Grass, Cockscomb, Patrinia Scabiosifolia
The pampas grass is still a little green, but it has a beautiful sheen to it. I gently bent the stem and created a soft curve that created an open space on the right side of the arrangement. It was the perfect place for the tall stem of cockscomb and a tall stem of the Patrinia Scabiosifolia, the yellow flower.

The arrangement in the glow of the moonlight.
(At least that's what I was trying to achieve with the lighting.
It also helped to bring out the bumps in the screen I use to take the pictures!)
 I placed this arrangement near my door, and it is one of the first things I see when I enter my apartment. It helps to cool me down after a hot and sweaty day at school. It also makes me excited for the coming fall season and all the arrangements I will get to do.

As always, feel free to leave a comment! Which picture do you like best? What's your favorite season? What do you look forward to about fall?


Summer Fun with Hot Colors

I had been looking at beautiful pictures on the Internet of these masses of flowers full of color and different textures. In ikebana, we really don't do anything like that; but I thought I might try my hand at it. I thought it would be a good study of color and texture for me, one confined to a small space and short in length.

I had fun playing around with the placement of the flowers creating masses of color and texture in the round container I usually use for moribana arrangements. Moribana means "piled up flowers" in Japanese, and I had created another form of piled up flowers in the container; so maybe there is a little ikebana in there after all!

The summery colors seem to pop a bit more against the brown of my coffee table.

Here they seem a bit more combined against the gray background of my photo screen.

I hope everyone is having a great summer!


Hiroki Ohara and Me

Last month I attended a workshop on Hanakanade, led by the current Headmaster, Hiroki Ohara. It was an enjoyable workshop, and I have practiced the new style a couple of times since then. I think I am beginning to understand it better, but it will take take time to fully understand it.

While at the workshop, a fellow student took a picture of the Headmaster and me. I was so engrossed in talking with Hiroki, that I didn't even realize that my picture had been taken. I thought I would share the picture with you. (Forgive the poor quality -- it's a scan of the picture.)

Hiroki Ohara and me

You can see how young the new Headmaster is. He is full of energy and new ideas. You can tell he has gained confidence in the last couple of years -- I can only imagine how hard his job must be, especially at such a young age. I know he will be a great leader for the Ohara School of Ikebana.

In the picture, you can also see my increasingly receding hairline and growing bald spot on the top of my head! Yikes! The pleasures of getting older. . . but notice I do have a smile on my face!


Summer Ikebana -- Contemporary and Traditional

So far this year, it has been a rather mild summer where I live in Japan. There was no real rainy season to speak of, and for most days, the high temperatures have not been above 30 degrees celcius. I have been loving it! Usually, the summers here are so hot and humid!! But by posting this on the internet, I may have jinxed myself! I hope not. I hope the rest of the summer continues to be a pleasant and bearable one.

I have two ikebana arrangements to share with you this time, both of which are summer inspired.

The first is a more contemporary arrangement known as the Circular Form. It is a multisided composition that is suitable for a western style home and can be placed on a table or buffet. It can be viewed from any side making it perfect for a centerpiece on the dining room table. The three main stems are placed along the circumference of a circle pointing outwards and producing a circular or spiral sense of movement.

Circular Form
Sunflower, Prairie Gentian, Asparagus Myriocladus, Baby's Breath
The three stems of sunflower are the main stems of the arrangement and make the basic structure of the circular motion. The asparagus myriocladus is also inserted in the same circualr motion forming a base of green in the arrangement. Prairie gentian is placed throughout to give color and balance to the work. Long stems of the prairie gentian are also used to help strengthen the circular motion. Finally, baby's breath is inserted throughout to give depth and texture to the composition. To me, it also gives a cool feeling to the arrangment, perfect for hot summer days.

View from above
All of the sunflowers extend beyond the border of the container.

The second arrangement is a Realistic Landscape Moribana arrangement. I had materials left over from a special class that I had gone to on Sunday and wanted to use them to make a large summer arrangment.

Realistic Landscape Moribana
Japanese Bell Flower,Vaccinium Oldhammi "Natsu Haze", Hosta Leaves, Solomon's Seal, Daianthus

The Japanese bell flowers, growing at the edge of a mountain stream or river, extend out over the surface of the water. The daianthus also grow in a small clump near the waters edge. The pink color helps to break up the strong green of the arrangement created by the hosta leaves, Solomon's seal and "Natsu Haze".

With the reflection of the materials extending out over the surface of the water, it helps to create a depth to the composition and also makes the viewer feel a little cool when looking at the arrangmenet.

Natural landscapes are the foundation for the Ohara School of Ikebana. Looking at these types of arrangements always gives me a sense of relief and relaxation.

Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think of the arrangements. Which one do you like better? What types of materials would you use to create a realistic landscape arrangement where you live?

I hope all of you are having a great summer!


Hanakanade with Headmaster Hiroki Ohara

This past weekend on Sunday, July 8, I attended a workshop presented by the Ohara School of Ikebana Headmaster, Hiroki Ohara. He has created a new style, called Hanakanade, and is travelling around Japan to the different area chapters to talk about and teach how to create the new style.

For the past year, photographs of the headmaster's Hanakanade arrangements have been published in magazines, and he also showed several arrangements at his first solo exhibition held earlier in the year in Tokyo. Looking at pictures and seeing arrangements has been informative, but learning from the headmaster, himself, is something that does not happen often. Needless to say, I was very excited for the opportunity.

The main point of Hanakanade is to showcase the limited vertical space above the container. Three principal stems rise up, crossing and forming interesting lines and shapes in the space above the container. The three points from which the stems soar into the air are then covered with a base of green material, and the lower space of the container is then utilized to add a grounding to the arrangement. The three principle stems have set rules, and all the other materials, where they are placed, how they are placed, the lengths of the stems, are all free. Because of the freedom of the arrangement, something interesting and unique can be created, but it also makes it difficult to use the space wisely, creating something that enhances, not detracts from, the principal stems in the area above the container.

After the Headmaster gave a short talk an the basics of the new style, I made a Hanakanade arrangement using the materials provided. He came around and checked each person's work giving feedback and advice on how to make a better arrangement. I was happy because the only thing he changed in my arrangement was the angle of one of the principle stems, and he also took out a few of the small flowers I had placed at the foot of one of the principle stems and added a tall leaf to give a little height to the base of the arrangement.

It was a very informative workshop, and I was thrilled that I could learn directly from the headmaster; but it is still a new style that I will have to practice many times to fully understand the beauty and delicate balance of the style.

Hanakanade -- the three principal stems rising into the limited vertical space above the container.

A close up of the base. Notice the sunflower looking to the rear of the arrangement?
This helps to fill in the space of the base of the container. It is also an arrangement
that can be viewed from any angle, so having something looking to the
rear of the work ensures that the back is also pleasing.

I tried to take a picture from above, but my arms weren't quite long enough.
Here you can see how the principal stems cross and fill the space.


Tropical Ikebana, ushering in the summer

This past weekend, the annual spring ikebana exhibition was held with over 250 people participating over the four day event. Fourteen different schools of ikebana participated in the exhibition, including Ikenobo, Sogetsu, and my school, Ohara. It is always interesting to see what materials other schools of ikebana use and how they use them in arrangements. I enjoy looking at other arrangements and the beauty that is created with different flowers, leaves, and branches. It never fails to inspire me in my own study and pursuit of ikebana and makes me want to share the joy of ikebana with others.

A couple of weeks ago while I was buying some flowers for a class that I was teaching, I spotted an interesting plant in the window of the flower shop -- Aeonium artropurpureum. Usually, this material is rather small, but these plants had been growing for a while and had matured into very nice, long, and unusual stalks. I knew that I wanted to use them for the spring exhibition, so I snapped them up before someone else had the same idea!

Looking at the lines of the material, I decided that I wanted to do a one-row form arrangement to show off the interesting lines and shape of the Aeonium. But, the Aeonium was quite large, so I would have to think about what type of container or containers I would use. Next, I had to decide what other materials I could use to show off this beauty. The Aeonium looked a little tropical and other-worldly to me, so I decided that I needed to find other tropical plants and flowers to make a cohesive, yet interesting, arrangement.

And the result:

One-row form
materials: Aeonium artropurpureum, Pincushion (2 varieties), Guzumania (2 varieties),
Dracaena "Song of India", Dracaena "Song of Jamaica"

 I had the perfect spot in the corner with a large base-box.
The view from the right side.

The view from the left side.

Tropical Ikebana to usher in the summer.

Several friends said that the materials looked like they came from a Ghibli movie. I think the Aeonium definitely look like they belong in a Ghibli movie.

The exhibition was only four days long. I always feel so bad for the flowers that they can only be appreciated for such a short time. If the arrangement is small, I can enjoy it at home after the exhibition ends, but this one was too big to do that. The box the arrangement sits on is about a meter across, so that can give you a small idea of how large the arrangement was.

A friend of mine has a small hanko shop, so I asked him if he would like for me to do a small arrangement for his window. I had done one for the new year in 2012 and 2011 for him. He was more than happy for me to do something for him again.

One-row form
materials: Guzumania, Dracaena "Song of Jamaica", Orchid "Calipso Pink"

A punch of color in the shop window.
I had bought the orchids for the arrangement for the exhibition, but decided against using them.
I'm glad they had a chance to show off their beauty to the public.
I'm glad I was able to use the materials again. And hopefully, they will last for a while and give the people walking by the shop something beautiful to look at.

Feel free to leave a comment on what you think of the arrangement. Do you think it looks like the materials could be found in a Ghibli movie?


Short Ikebana Picture Video How-To

I've been messing around with trying to make an ikebana video lately.

Here are my first two attempts. I took a series of photos and made a little mini-movie on how to make two different kinds of arrangements. They don't go into a lot of detail, because I wasn't sure I could even do it -- I am not the most tech savvy! I'm going to actually try and take a video of me doing and explaining an arrangement next, so be on the lookout for that. Until then, enjoy these two short videos.


Cherry Blossoms 2012

The cherry blossoms finally came into bloom last week. On Saturday, the sky was a brilliant blue and it seemed the pink trees had blossomed over night. I was busy that day and couldn't get out to take some pictures. So on Sunday morning, I woke up bright and early and headed out to take enjoy the beauty of the day and the beauty of the trees. It was a little hazy, but I did manage to get a few shots. And I'm lucky I did. Why? Because the rain and cool weather came putting a stop to all of the cherry blossom fun. By the end of the week, most of the blossoms had been beaten off the trees by the rain. It seems like that happens every year. I guess that is the spring weather for you. The frailty of the flowers make you appreciate them so much more. I look forward to their fleeting beauty each year, and it never disappoints. So until next year, I'll just enjoy the pictures I have.

cherry trees along the bank of the Kitakami river

it looks like cotton candy

yes, that is snow on the mountains in the background
a walking path under the trees

i love the gray bark of the cherry tree

pink and blue


The Big and Small of Ikebana

I was planning on getting this post up earlier in the day, but it was a beautiful day here -- the first real day of spring this year. It had been cold and rainy all last week. But this morning when I woke up, the sky was a brilliant blue without a cloud in the sky. I had to go out in the morning, and I was surprised to see the cherry blossom trees in full bloom! I guess they thought it was time for spring to show herself, too. I had the windows and door open all day, and it was wonderful! I hope that I can get out tomorrow and get some pictures to share with you later.

On to the ikebana . . .

This time, I wanted to share some pictures of Moribana.

Moribana was originated by the First Headmaster, Unshin Ohara. It's an ikebana where the materials are arranged as if they are piled up in a low, flat container with a large surface of the water showing. Many other schools of ikebana also have a Moribana style, but it was originated in the Ohara School of Ikebana.

The most basic style in Moribana is the Upright Style. It expresses the beauty of materials that stand upright. The three principal stems are arranged to form a scalene triangle with all other materials acting as filler stems.

Five stems of Calla lily are used as the subject and secondary material. The tallest stem in the back is the main stem of the arrangement, the subject, with the stem angled out to the left being the secondary stem. These two form the first two points of the scalene triangle. The other three stems of Calla lily are arranged to give the group a sense of movement and interest.

Because the lilies have no green leaves, three stems of Solidaster are used to fill in the base of the group and to help cover the kenzan.

Next, three Tulips are added as the mid-filler. One is short in the front, one is tall in the middle, and one more is short in the back. The three stems form a mountain shape when viewed from the side.

Last, five stems of Sweet Pea are used as the object group with a few fronds of Leather Leaf mixed into the group. The Sweet Pea angled out to the right is the third stem that forms the last point of the scalene triangle.

This picture taken vertically helps to show off the beautiful lines of the Calla lily and the beauty of the Upright Style.

After doing this arrangement, I did one in a much smaller container, also using five materials.

Three leaves of New Zealand Flax, three stems of Anemone, three blooms of Alstroemeria, three stems of Stock, and Asparagus myriocladus is used throughout to connect all the materials.

A close-up of the flowers.

And how small is this arrangement? It's hard to tell without a point of reference.

This small. Yes, that is a regular pen in front of the container -- small.

And there you have it.

The big and small of ikebana.